The U.S. agency known as GSA has removed LGBT categories from its non-discrimination policy. (Photo public domain)

GSA Accused of Omitting LGBT People from Non-Discrimination Rules

BY CHRIS JOHNSON, WASHINGTON BLADE

The U.S. General Services Administration is being accused of leaving out LGBT workers from its employment non-discrimination policy, which would contradict executive orders prohibiting such discrimination in the federal workforce, although the U.S. agency is pushing back on that claim.

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said Monday night in a statement the GSA, which manages functions of government agencies, removed LGBT workers from its Equal Employment Opportunity website.

That omission, Stacy said, is yet another attempt by "the Trump-Pence Administration actively seeking to undermine rights for LGBTQ people" and called for inclusion of the categories.

"The GSA's move to exclude sexual orientation and gender identity from their Equal Employment Opportunity statement is mean-spirited, deceptive and irresponsible," Stacy said. "The GSA's EEO statement is meant to inform workers and applicants about their legal protections -- protections that federal employees have had for decades. Cutting specific mention of sexual orientation and gender identity protections is a slap in the face to LGBTQ federal employees who proudly serve and sadly signals that this administration does not value them. The GSA should immediately restore the previous, accurate EEO policy."

A look at the Equal Employment Opportunity statement on GSA's website reveals no mention of prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, even though other categories -- race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability and genetic information -- are spelled out.

That's different from a 2015 non-discrimination policy, which explicitly identified discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as a subset of sex discrimination. The memo say that policy will only become outdated in 2022.

But the GSA is denying any change was made. In response to the Human Rights Campaign statement and an earlier version of this article, a GSA spokesperson said the 2015 policy "is in full effect and has not changed." Further, the spokesperson said the information page on the GSA webpage was set up years ago -- possibly as late as 2012 -- and represents no change.

"GSA is proud of our diverse and talented workforce and is committed to ensuring all agency employees feel welcome," the spokesperson said. "GSA prohibits discrimination in the workplace and will continue to make sure our employees' legal rights are protected."

But there's an additional wrinkle. Acting Administrator Timothy Horne, whom Trump appointed upon his inauguration on Jan. 20., outlined the EEO policy in a memo to workers on Oct. 25 emphasizing the importance of non-discrimination in the workforce -- but left out potential discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"EEO is a critical component of GSA's efforts to recruit, develop, and retain the most qualified, diverse workforce possible to support our agency's multifaceted strategic mission," Horne writes. "Toward that end, it is GSA's policy that all employees and applicants for employment be afforded equal opportunities in employment without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, genetic information, disability or retaliation for engaging in an EEO-protected activity."

Stacy said in a follow-up statement GSA still needs to take action to make its position clear even if the agency has retained its policy of non-discrimination against LGBT workers.

"If the GSA's EEO policy is that protections from discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity are still in effect, it is important that they make that clear to their employees," Stacy said. "The email they sent to 12,000 GSA employees is unclear and misleading. And, simply saying that they are 'committed to ensuring all agency employees feel welcome' and that their 'legal rights are protected' again fails to provide the necessary clarity to LGBTQ employees."

Any removal of sexual orientation and gender identity from GSA's non-discrimination policy would contravene former President Bill Clinton's executive order in 1998, which banned anti-gay discrimination in the federal workforce, and former President Barack Obama's executive order in 2014 barring anti-trans discrimination in the federal workforce as well as anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. President Trump agreed to allow those executive orders to remain standing.

Even without inclusion in the non-discrimination policy, LGBT workers at GSA should be still be able seek recourse under the Clinton and Obama executive orders and cite the 2015 memo if necessary. Federal laws against sex discrimination, which courts are increasingly interpreting to apply to LGBT people, would also cover workers there. The General Services Administration employs an estimated 12,000 federal workers.

A similar situation emerged in June when the Commerce Department under Wilbur Ross removed LGBT categories from its non-discrimination policy, but promptly reinstated them after media attention. A spokesperson at the time said the omission was an oversight and the department "never intended to change the policy or exclude any protected categories."

NOTE: This article has been modified from its initial version to correspond to the updated response from the U.S. General Services Administration.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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